2. BREXITS, QEXITS AND BEYOND
On my previous visit to the UK, my sister asked me if I was Bob. She hadn't forgotten who I was (or so I assume), but was instead using one of the many thousands of words and metaphors that have arisen surrounding Brexit. BoB, it soon turned out, means Bored of Brexit. According to The Brexit Lexicon, an art installation by Simon Roberts, the total number of new or repurposed expressions stretches to almost 5000. For somebody living away from the epicentre, it's a lot to take in.
There's good news for translators worldwide though: a very large number of these are internationalisms, i.e. words that exist (with the same or similar pronunciation) in multiple languages beyond the original source. Soft/hard Brexit, Remainer, Leaver and backstop are all obvious examples. Less clear internationalisms, now fully cemented in their respective languages, include tsunami from Japanese, sauna from Finnish and coffee from Dutch. The word Brexit itself, with its capacity to function as both a noun and verb, is particularly suitable for creative retooling. As England v Iceland came to a close at the 2016 UEFA Championship, I could practically sense the Dutch commentator's delight at finally having the chance to say, "en Engeland Brexits het kampioenschap."
As for the long-term linguistic results of Brexit, it's
probably too early to tell. In 2017, I read an article that suggested, a tad
dramatically, that the UK's departure from the EU may mean the end of English
as a global lingua franca - despite, of course, the oft-repeated but
hard-to-verify claim that there are more English learners in China than there
are native English speakers anywhere. A more likely impact seems to be a
continued proliferation of '-xits', from Jacob Zuma's Zexit from
the South African presidency to calls for a forced Qexit after Australia's Queensland
Dairyfarmers Organisation failed to celebrate World Milk Day. It's interesting
to remember that the mother of all of these terms is actually Grexit, coined
as long ago as 2012 in reference to the Greek economic crisis.
Our job, as translators, is essentially to keep up. We don't define how a language should be used but must rather understand all of the ways in which it is used and decide which best captures the spirit of the original text. This means that our work may seem woefully outdated in twenty years time, by which point -xits could be as common as it is today to insert 2000 into product names to celebrate the new millennium. At the very least, however, it will provide a fascinating snapshot of how our languages and thought processes evolve. Until the early twentieth century in the USA, the term Dutchman was the usual translation of the German demonym Deutscher, perhaps telling us something about American conceptions of Europe at that time. Our obsession with coining and spreading Brexit terms may too become a source of enlightenment for future historians - if only a source of endless confusion today.